“The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.” —G.K. Chesterton
If you’re a Catholic convert, you’ve probably received the question from Protestants, from your fellow Catholics, and from ex-Catholics—“why Catholic?” If it’s from a fellow convert, you take it as an invite to share your conversion story and what brought you Home. From others, you may be looked at as if you’re holding a live rattlesnake. A good many evangelicals still hold the view that the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon from Revelation. I’ve had at least one person tell me I was going to Hell for converting.
Like Chesterton, I find it hard to say exactly why I converted. There was not really one single reason. At the time I decided to make the journey, I found myself walking on two converging paths that seemed to be in many ways to be antithetical to one another. I was struggling with belief in God. I described this as my agnostic phase. I actually started a now-defunct apologetics blog, and I often jumped into the fray of debating with atheists online. Part of the reason for jumping into apologetics was really to exorcise my own doubts. But, I was going through a difficult time in my life. My belief in an omnipotent, loving God was waning.
Secondly, I was involved in a church that seemed to be in a struggle with itself to define what it believed. This has become all too common in the last few years with the redefinition of marriage taking center stage in our culture. Many Protestant churches have split because of the issue, with some of their parishioners leaving the denominations to find other more conservative denominations, or coming to Rome or, leaving any form of church altogether.
God, are you there?
My wife and I had gone through a series of problems I won’t go into here. But, like many people, I hit that phase in my life where I asked “why me?” I tried to handle it with grace and faith, not throwing in the towel. But, as things progressed I felt as if I could no longer feel God’s presence in my life. This is something St. John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul”, and I would strongly recommend you read his book of the same title it if you haven’t already.
Instead of surrendering to my feelings, I decided to search for God and see if he was indeed real. If God was real and if he really wanted a relationship with us, I surmised he would make himself known to someone who earnestly sought him. During this time, I described myself as “somewhere between a deist and an agnostic”. I believed there very well might be some sort of “higher power” who was perhaps the absentee landlord of the universe and didn’t really give a hoot about what happened down here. On the other hand, I wasn’t totally sure he existed either.
During this time, I read and researched. I read science and philosophy. I once sent a note to a like-minded friend with reasons there might not be a God. When you consider some views of the Big Bang, it’s possible the universe came into existence on its own without any help. This is referred to as an “uncaused cause”, or “first cause”. On the other hand, there are also theories that the energy that triggered the Big Bang might have come from somewhere outside our dimension of time and space. And what is God, if not outside our time and space? I have long been a fan of science fiction like Star Trek and Stargate and just about anything else with the word “Star” in the title. I was intrigued by the Star Trek: The Next Generation character Q, an omnipotent, omnipresent alien force outside our time and space. And yet Gene Roddenberry was firmly atheist.
More and more, cosmologists come up with theories that point to the possibility that the universe just might have been created by a super powerful intelligence outside our dimension. Yet, many people still deny the possibility of God. I also read some of Richard Dawkins’s work. Full disclosure: I have not read The God Delusion. But, from listening to the man speak on Youtube videos and reading some of his articles online, I gather his point is that man came to being when stars expelled matter from their cores and that matter came to earth and through eons of chemical changes, those chemicals became the building blocks of life.
But, Antony Flew, author of There Is a God, asks, “Is there any set of circumstances in which you can imagine a marble table becoming a living being after any amount of time?” There is something more to life than mere chemistry. I once watched a Discovery Channel program about the possibility of life on other planets. One scientist described everything that would be necessary for life as we know it to exist on another planet. He went on to say that just because those criteria are met does not guarantee life will happen. There is some unknown variable which is the catalyst for life. Could that unknown variable simply be the will of God?
If there is a God, then which religion is true?
This is a familiar argument to many Christians. How can you be sure that Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, or any other “ism” isn’t the right one? For one thing, the Buddha actually never claimed to be a deity. He also told his followers not to worship him. While Buddhism is not compatible with Catholicism, the Church acknowledges “nuggets of truth” in other faiths. The Buddha merely offered insight to human suffering and told his followers, “If you find a better way than what I have shown you, take it”. Jesus, on the other hand, said “I AM the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). The only real conflict I found in different faiths was among the Abrahamic faiths around the person of Jesus. We Christians understand Jesus as the promised Messiah. The Jews are still waiting on the Messiah, and the Muslims don’t believe in a Messiah.
Those wacky Christians
One of the things that pushed me away from religion was hearing how many Christian sects seemed to outright reject science and logic. I’ve already mentioned the Big Bang here, but I’ve met many well-meaning Christians who in spite of all reasonable evidence reject evolution, or who in some cases refuse to seek medical attention for themselves or their children relying strictly on “faith” to heal them. I recall the story of a young diabetic girl who died because her Christian parents refused to follow doctors orders, saying they put their faith in God instead of doctors.
Perhaps most disturbingly, I became aware of the influence of Michael Pearl, a preacher from Tennessee who advocated a harsh “spare the rod and spoil the child” methodology of discipline that resulted in the deaths of at least two children. Pearl recommended beating a “disrespectful” child for one hour for every year of his or her age as discipline. Not surprisingly, when one couple beat their three year old son for three consecutive hours, he died from internal bleeding. I had to ask, “If there is a God, does he want us to abandon reason and our senses to accommodate faith?”
The first answer came to me from another minister friend of mine. I told him I was trying to find that balance between faith and reason. He said to me, “That’s great, Mike. But, don’t get caught up like these other guys in trying to find ‘proof’ of Noah’s Ark or this city or that city. Ultimately, our faith rests on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the resurrection didn’t happen, our faith is null and void. If it did happen, then our faith is fulfilled and justified”.
That clinched it for me. This much I know for sure: Sometime in the early first century, outside Jerusalem, the Roman Empire crucified a Jewish rabbi. This incident in and of itself is unremarkable. The Romans crucified lots of people and many of them were probably even Jewish rabbis of a sort, and some even claimed to be messiahs.
The thing that makes Jesus of Nazareth’s death different is that after His death, He got back up again. Something Big happened outside Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. Either Jesus of Nazareth came out of that tomb under his own power, or someone pulled off the single biggest hoax in all of human history and is still pulling it off today.
I wasn’t there. But, I have the testimony of the Apostles and the martyrs that followed them not just in the intervening decades, but throughout the past 2000 years, numerous saints and mystics have had visions of Him as well as the Blessed Mother. He has continued to influence history like no other figure. Some might look for scientific proof of His resurrection. But, not every trial requires scientific proof for a verdict, merely that facts be established beyond reasonable doubt.
Most of us take something with a certain amount of faith. How do I know Jesus died and rose again? I’ve asked people, “Do you believe OJ Simpson killed his wife?” or “Do you believe Casey Anthony killed her daughter?” Most people answer with the affirmative that they believe those things. They believe those things in spite of the fact juries found the individuals not guilty (and I’m not saying I agree with the juries). But, we come to conclusions about things we did not witness or know nothing about. We reach our own conclusions based on the preponderance of evidence, and this is why I believe in the resurrection.
But why Catholicism?
With all I’ve said thus far, there was one thing missing. As I said above, if God was real, He would have made a way for us to know him. I started to see the influence the early Church had in the development of Western culture from the foundations of universities to trial by jury to charities and civil law.
A moral compass
At one point in my journey, my wife and I were visiting family in Massachusetts. We had a pastor friend, who took us out on a small sailboat. My friend and I were discussing religion when I told him I was feeling drawn to the Catholic Church. When he asked why, I told him I was frustrated with the Protestant debates on homosexuality and abortion. It seemed the churches weren’t sure what was right or wrong anymore. I told him that if something was wrong two thousand, or just a few hundred years ago, it was still wrong today. I also said that I believed democracy had destroyed the churches when I could vote on whether I wanted to call something a sin or not.
I made the argument that while I couldn’t (at that time) accept everything the Catholic Church taught, at least you could count on them not to completely change doctrine next year based on a majority opinion.
While sailing, my friend offered me the helm. I had never sailed before and jumped at the chance. He pointed to a buoy off in the distance and said, “keep that buoy in sight and we can’t get lost”.
To which, I immediately replied, “That’s how the church should be, like that buoy. It should be a fixed point by which we can navigate. But, I feel like somebody keeps moving my buoy”.
He only nodded in agreement. I have also used the analogy of coming from the Army and learning land navigation. You can’t effectively navigate without north. Without a fixed point of reference, we would get lost every time we wandered into the woods. I have found my fixed point in the Catholic Church.
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit soars to the truth” Pope John Paul II said. But, the thing that ultimately pushed me over to the Catholic Church came one night when I Googled “faith and reason”. The very first link in the list was to a speech given by then-Pope Benedict XVI called “The Regensburg Lecture”. In it, the Holy Father delved into the Gospel of John explaining that John opened with a type of creation narrative saying, “In the beginning, was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was with God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among men”.
Pope Benedict reminds us the word for “word” in this instance is logos, the Greek word from which we derive logic. Logos also means reason. So, the Pope (Emeritus) tells us, “In the beginning was Reason, and Reason was with God, Reason was God and Reason became flesh and dwelt among men”.
Fr. Benedict also tells us, “To act contrary to reason is to act contrary to God”.
When I read that, I became infatuated with the Roman Catholic Church. But, I wasn’t ready to convert just yet. It took a few more years of reading and research. After the Regensburg Lecture, I started researching Catholicism. In my Protestant mind, Catholics did a lot of “weird” things like pray to Mary and have statues in churches.
It was actually a Protestant blog that pushed me closer to Rome. At this point, I found an article discussing Martin Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura. The author discussed problems with sola scriptura. Before the Protestant Reformation, ultimate authority for interpreting scripture lay with the Pope and his bishops and that afterward, everyone became his or her own “mini-pope”. I concluded, this opened up the door to moral relativism because, my interpretation is as good as your interpretation, and if I don’t interpret something as sin, then who are you to tell me otherwise?
The dogma of Papal infallibility ensures the Church keeps to true and unchanging doctrine dating back to the Apostles. As time went on, I started to research different Catholic doctrines. I looked at the earliest evidence for Catholic dogma on the Blessed Virgin, the saints and other teachings. Bit by bit, I saw that these teachings went back as far as the early second century (as far as I could find). I started to become convinced that, as Chesterton said, the Catholic Church was true. Leaving my old church was not easy. It was never about what I “liked” in a church, though there is much to “like” about Catholicism. The choice for me now was that I could either become Catholic or I could stay where I was and keep these beliefs in my heart. But, what would be the point in believing in the Real Presence, but belonging to church that didn’t believe in it?
I wasn’t done yet, though. After about 3 years of research and study, I came to a point where I could no longer get the answers I sought from just books and reading online. So, I called my local Catholic parish and inquired about the start of RCIA. I met with the priest and told him my story. I told him that just because I was coming to RCIA didn’t mean I was going to become a Catholic. It only meant I was searching and that if I couldn’t accept what he told me, I would drop out.
He said he wouldn’t expect any less of me.
So, I began a nine month journey of RCIA, reading, questioning and studying before I was finally confirmed on Easter Vigil of 2014, and I think it was the best thing I’ve done in my life so far.
About Michael Duty
Born and raised in eastern Kentucky, Michael attended a nondenominational Christian college. He has been a Baptist and a Methodist. Michael found his way home to Rome in 2014.